Friday, June 12, 2015

One More Question: So Who Air Drops the Vehicle?

The Army is worried that modern air defenses require parachute forces to drop too far from an objective to seize the objective. So there is a big push to field an array of air droppable vehicles to allow drops far enough from the objective to avoid air defenses but close enough to drive to the objective and assault it on foot. There is a weak spot in this otherwise solid logic: the Air Force.

The lack of a middle ground between Army heavy forces (tracked and heavily armored) and light forces (light infantry, airborne, Rangers, and even Marines) led to our Stryker brigades equipped with light, wheeled, armored vehicles.

But the Stryker brigade is not a true bridging capability between heavy forces (power on the battlefield) and light forces (speed of strategic deployment). I've read (I don't remember where) that if you consider moving such a brigade from the continental United States to South Korea, moving the brigade by sea is just as fast as moving it by air. So much for a bridging capability.

The Stryker brigade proved itself as an infantry-heavy COIN asset in Iraq (once up-armored with RPG screens), but that is different.

As I noted in 2002 (see "Equipping the Objective Force"), the pull between strategic mobility and battlefield power and survivability cannot be solved with one vehicle. So anything the Army builds for the airborne forces will only be strategically mobile and inappropriate for other forces. That's a good lesson alone. We can't afford another Future Combat Systems (FCS) fiasco.

And given that this proposal addresses a niche capability, even a perfectly efficient procurement effort is likely to be a budget problem.

Assuming we deploy a new array of light vehicles for the paratroopers, the Army will face the same strategic mobility limits that the Stryker brigades demonstrate--anything the Army wants to move overseas quickly has to move by Air Force transport planes.

In the most flush budget times, transport planes (and refueling planes) are not the priority of the Air Force which prefers to invest in combat aircraft.

In a period when the Air Force doesn't even want to expend the small amount of money needed to keep the only dedicated ground support aircraft in its inventory lest a single F-35 be delayed in going operational, is the Army really going to be able to convince the Air Force to move enough of these light airborne vehicles--and the support assets to keep them armed, fueled, and moving--to make a difference on the battlefield?